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Whitley Award donated by The Scottish Friends of the WFN winner Elena Bykova, Uzbekistan.


Princess presents top conservation accolade to Uzbek saiga champion

Whitley Award donated by The Scottish Friends of the WFN  – Elena Bykova –  Community action for disappearing Saiga Antelopes of the Ustyurt Plateau, Uzbekistan. 

EMBARGO: Not for publication, please, before 20:30hrs GMT on Wednesday 11 May 2011 

LONDON, UK: 11 MAY 2011 – HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) tonight presented one of the world’s top prizes for grassroots nature conservation – a Whitley Award – to Elena Bykova, of Uzbekistan, for her success in persuading former hunters to support a campaign to save the saiga antelope – an icon of the desert-steppe – which has seen its numbers fall by 95% in just 10 years.

Elena Bykova, a researcher for Uzbekistan’s Institute of Zoology and the executive secretary of the international Saiga Conservation Alliance, received her prize during a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, hosted by The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) – the UK-based charity behind the international awards scheme.

Her Whitley Award  includes a project grant of £30,000 – donated by the Scottish Friends of the WFN  – an engraved trophy, membership of the influential network of past Whitley Award winners, international recognition and development training.

The prize recognises Elena Bykova’s work to involve the people of the Ustyurt Plateau in halting the decline of Uzbekistan’s saiga populations, including by renewing local interest in its place in desert-steppe traditions and by getting former hunters to swap their guns for GPS recorders so that they can help to monitor where the surviving herds travel and graze.

The evening’s top honour – the £60,000 Whitley Gold Award – went to marine biologist Dr Rachel Graham, of Belize, for her work to protect Belize’s sharks and coastal biodiversity and so safeguard local livelihoods and Belize’s economically important tourism industry.

In addition, Her Royal Highness presented other Whitley Awards worth £30,000 each to conservation leaders from Argentina, Croatia, India, Indonesia and Russia. 

For the full results, please see the Notes overleaf.

Commenting on Elena Bykova’s success, Georgina Domberger, Director of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “The aim of the Whitley Awards is to identify and applaud inspirational conservation leaders, and give them new funds and skills to enable them to make even greater use of their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share.  

“In the case of Elena, the judges were particularly impressed by her recognition that saiga conservation will only succeed if it is supported by local people and that they need to be reassured that healthy saiga herds are better for them, their environment, local culture and the economy than over-hunting , to meet the demand for horns and body parts from the Traditional Chinese Medicine trade.”

The ceremony at which Elena Bykova received her accolade was co-hosted by the author and broadcaster John McCarthy and witnessed by a 350-strong audience which included embassy officials, Whitley Fund for Nature donors, including HSBC and WWF-UK, and leading environmentalists.


The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the 18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than £6m to support the work of inspirational conservation leaders in 70 countries and built a network of more than 120 Whitley alumni.  To learn more about the charity, its donors and past winners, please see:

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Media enquiries:

Pam Beddard

Publicist – Whitley Awards 2011

(t): +44 117 987 0442 or +44 7767 621207

(e): [email protected]

Awards Ceremony photographs

Copyright-cleared photographs of winners receiving their Whitley Awards will be available from shortly after the ceremony ends or can be emailed direct on request (see contact details above). Portraits of the finalists and project images are also available from the same Picasa folder or by email, on request.

Notes to Editors

The Whitley Awards are the flagship grants of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), a UK-registered charity. WFN’s aim is to identify the world’s most dynamic conservation leaders and support them in practical work that benefits both wildlife and local communities. The first Whitley Award was given in 1994 when a single winner received £15,000 GBP. Since then, the number and value of the prizes has grown so that the awards are now acknowledged internationally as one of most valuable accolades a conservationist can win.

To be considered for a Whitley Award, entrants need to display both a strong track record in science-based conservation work and a viable plan for taking their work further. A hallmark of the scheme is that WFN seeks to remain in close contact with past winners and facilitates the sharing of best practice, lessons learned, contacts and ideas. In this way, WFN maintains links with more than 120 international conservation leaders in 70 countries. For more information, please see

Whitley Awards 2011 – results

Whitley Gold Award, donated by WWF-UK 

+ Whitley Award donated by George and Natasha Duffield

Dr Rachel T. GRAHAM (Belize) , the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Programme, who is protecting Belize’s sharks, rays and other ocean giants – a valuable eco-tourism attraction but increasingly imperilled by local misconceptions and unsustainable fishing by other countries.

Whitley Award donated by The Friends of The WFN

Dr Ramana ATHREYA (India), an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and a co-ordinator with Eco-Systems India, who is working on landscape and biodiversity protection in India’s least populated state: Arunachal Pradesh, by forming conservation alliances with Himalayan tribes-people.

Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation

Jana BEDEK (Croatia), a biologist, caver and President of the Croatian Bio-speleological Society who is capturing local knowledge to protect both the vast limestone cave systems which lie beneath the Dinaric Alps, stretching from Italy to Albania, and the many unusual creatures found there and nowhere else on Earth.

Whitley Award donated by The Scottish Friends of The WFN

Elena BYKOVA (Uzbekistan), , who, as Executive Secretary of the Saiga Conservation Alliance and as a researcher with the Institute of Zoology at Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, is working in the desert-steppes between the Aral and Caspian Seas on safeguarding the critically-endangered saiga antelope, including by restoring local pride in traditions associated with the animal.

Whitley Award donated by Goldman Sachs

Dr Hotlin OMPUSUNGGU (Indonesian Borneo), who as head of Alam Sehat Lestari (Healthy, Nature, Everlasting) and a dentist is trying to sever the links between poverty, ill-health and ecological damage to the Gunung Palung National Park, in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, by letting poor communities ‘pay’ for healthcare by becoming guardians of the forests where gibbons and orangutans live.

Whitley Award donated by The Garfield Weston Foundation

Dr Igor PROKOFYEV (Russia), the director of PERESVET (Grassroots Alliance) and head of bio-monitoring at Bryansk University, who is inspiring communities in Western Russia to take part in the country’s first ever conservation movement for bats and ensuring the region remains a world-relevant haven for them, despite recent loss of habitat to urban development.

Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust

Luis RIVERA (Argentina), a biologist at Jujuy National University and the President of the CEBio Foundation who is using colourful endangered parrots as the emblem of a campaign to boost tourism income and rally public support for the conservation of the species-rich Yungas forests, in the eastern shadow of the Andes.

Issued by:

The Whitley Fund for Nature

33 Drayson Mews

London W8 4LY

United Kingdom

+44 20 7368 6568

[email protected]